Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sea Stories 2 - the Smoke Generator

I was a new man aboard the USS Fremont. Our A division boat shop was the starboard half of the after deck house. The port side was property of R (repair) division, and aft of the deck house was the fantail, property of 3rd (deck) division. The ship was departing NOB Norfolk, when a "senior person" approached me. Now on the port side of the fantail resided a strange large covered object, under coarse canvas that had received multiple coats of gray and black paint.
So many coats of paint had accumlated that the canvas was as rigid and unyielding as sheet metal. The "senior person" continued to convey information to me. The conversation went something like this: "See that covered equipment on the fantail? Yes, I replied, "What is it?" " It's yours," was his reply. "It's a smoke generator and I have never seen it used."
Wow! This was an exciting revelation. I had never even seen a amoke generator, much less been handed one. On a destroyer, we had special smoke burners that fed oil into the boilers and produced a hated greasey black smoke that fouled water tubes, decks and ocean surface. This generator was a complete stranger to me, and I had just discovered it was "mine"!
Of course I started to struggle with that ancient painted canvas immediately, and even had help from some 3rd division hands who were also curious. They, too, had never seen the marvelous gadget we had struggled to uncover, even though it had sat in their domain and they had probably applied many coats of paint to it's canvas cover.
With the canvas removed, we could observe a collection of steel drums, assorted pipes, a burner and a small aircooled engine. Two beautiful curved pipes followed the curve of the stern rail, and had multiple small holes drilled in parallel with the rail. This was a machine unlike anything I had ever encountered. The small engine ran on gasoline and we had a goodly supply for our emergency pumps. It would supply the force to run the burner and mix the water and oil from the drums. The combustion products would be fed to the curved pipes I will call "emitters".No books, no owners manual, just me and this challenging collection of drums, pipes, engine, burner and emitters.
I quickly fueled the engine and it started with surprising ease. I allowed a brief warm-up and
then began to manipulate the many valves in the system. This was growing more interesting with every minute, especially so when a white smoke appeared from the emitters. I was soon producing a grand white smoke screen off our port quarter and it was rapidly increasing in volume and density.
Our lovely white smoke screen was growing better by the moment, and had trailed off several hundred meters when it caught the attention of the bridge watch. A messenger from the bridge arrived far too soon, for I still had no idea what the full capacity of this grand apparatus might be. No matter, for the messenger advised me and all hands on the fantail that our Captain had expressed a desire to have the smoke generator secured, and promptly. It seems that creating a smoke screen in a major shipping channel is not standard navigational procedure. I really expected an invitation to one of the Captain's little soirees "At the mast" but the invitation never arrived. I guess the bridge watch was too occupied with conning the ship for I shut down my fabulous new machine and never heard more about "making smoke".
In a post script I must point out that gunners on a rare occaision, fired our aft 5 inch gun over the port rail. With the first shot, muzzle blast shredded that old painted canvas, and "My new machine" was treated to a fresh canvas coat!

No comments: